GE’s Latest Open Innovation Challenges Are Both Marketing and Technology Genius

October 7, 2015 Clinton Bonner


Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A Fortune 10, leading global enterprise, wanted to make a splash with a new initiative, focusing heavily on the convergence of software into our physical, industrial world. This global leader did all the ‘usual’ types of advertising and brand building such as putting out a series of fantastic new commercials that focus on smart machines and the talent and minds of software engineers who will be driving this transformational initiative for their company. The company also continues to put out scores of compelling content and curating topical events focused on the convergence of minds + machines. They pretty much covered all their bases right? Not by a long shot.

The Semi-Fictional Podcast that is Content Marketing Genius

GE wasn’t resting on conventional laurels. When their team entertained the idea of a podcast as part of their healthy content mix, they could have gone the traditional route, inviting in experts in the Industrial Internet to discuss a variety of topics. But once again, GE decided to push the boundaries. Their team created Pivot, a semi-fictional, scripted pod that follows the adventures of Ethan and Sam, as they attempt to create Industrial Internet applications while they work, live, and play in the backdrop of San Francisco.

OK, this seems pretty cool. A GE podcast that is chock-full of technology geekery, but with a storytelling spin to keep folks hooked while growing an audience. That does seem inventive! But GE didn’t stop there. They wanted to further blur the lines between fiction and reality, and what they did next was truly innovative.

Real Open Innovation & Crowdsourcing Challenges as Major Plot Points in a Scripted Podcast

Yes, you read that correctly. GE partners with Appirio to run open innovation (crowdsourcing) challenges on the Appirio Crowdsourcing Platform. We’ve done a wide variety of work together, but when we received the call from the GE Digital team and GE’s Director, Open Innovation, Dyan Finkhousen and heard what they wanted to go do next, we had to let it sink in before we said of course! It was incredibly inventive and the types of challenges they were looking to run were perfect fits for our platform and Topcoder community. Here’s what GE asked Appirio to help deliver through crowdsourcing challenges:

Challenge #1 – Ideation: Industrial Internet Mash-up of Drones + Wearables

In their pod, Pivot, Ethan, and Sam are attempting to generate an application idea that successfully mashes up current drone technology with wearables — one that has true purpose in today’s Industrial Internet. They’re unsure which way to go and as they churn through the stressful elements of trying to launch a company together (listen to episode IV here) they decide to use crowdsourcing to help them generate top, technically achievable business application ideas.

But this is where the story pauses and where a real crowdsourcing challenge took place on the Appirio Crowdsourcing Platform. Our teams collectively put together a specification and launched a 7-day ideation challenge, asking our global community of designers, developers, and data scientists to participate in this challenge.


This ideation challenge was pretty incredible. 59 members from our community registered, and GE received 19 unique and technically detailed submissions from our community. Keep in mind, these submissions weren’t just a simple sentence around a loose idea. Instead, we asked our community members to roll up their sleeves and provide detailed explanations of why they chose certain technologies as well as provide detailed user scenarios discussing how the human + the wearable + the drone could now accomplish something brand new, together.

The Winning Industrial Internet Application Idea:

Let us pause and thank all of the participants and also congratulate the many winners from this challenge. But with any competition there can be only one champion, so which application idea captured the crown?

Introducing Dronable (aka CanDrone)

Topcoder member [wcheung] provided the below synopsis, and a lot more technical detail as part of his championship submission:

””Droneable or CanDrone” is the combination of a drone and application that will allow commercial fishing fleets the opportunity to zero-in on ocean areas within their fishing routes which have the lowest surface carbon dioxide (CO2). Measuring surface CO2 is the basis of ocean acidification research and involves measuring pCO2 or partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the water. The issue with doing this from a drone has been cost and weight of the ocean CO2 sensor devices. Recently this problem has been solved as their are now low cost, portable ocean sensors that make it feasible for drone attachment.”

App + Drone

Leading an industrial fishing fleet, I activate “Droneable” using my Apple Watch…. I send the drone out to scan the ocean surface (like a seagull). The drone is able to take different readings using its onboard sensors including the CO2 sensor. The drone sends the reading back to my iPhone where I am able to monitor its findings.

With the winning idea procured through a crowdsourcing challenge, GE wanted to see the application idea brought to life through compelling design concepts, which leads us to challenge #2.

Challenge #2 – Design Concepts: Droneable – Industrial Fishing Meets Drone, Sensor and Wearable Technologies

With the confidence that they had sourced an amazingly strong and feasible Industrial Internet application idea, our teams (GE + Appirio) quickly launched a design challenge to flesh out the visual concepts. With a need for tremendous speed, we crafted a 1-day concepts design challenge and were blown away by the efforts and outputs from our community of designers.


This challenge saw 12 Topcoder members compete and provide a wide and creative variety of designs for this inventive application. The challenge canvassed mobile, tablet, and even screens for an Apple Watch interface. Below is a small sampling of select screenshots from various members — truly amazing work in what was an extremely compressed time frame.

We thank all the Topcoder members who competed in this unique design challenge and congratulate [abedavera], [iamtong], [kharm], [yoki], and [chekspir] for finishing 1st through 5th, respectively.

Back to Reality

With the application idea sourced and design concepts created — all within a matter of about 2 and a half weeks — the GE Digital team is now actively writing these outputs into the upcoming episodes of Pivot. In the coming episodes, Ethan and Sam will hatch a plan to partner with a drone maker that will create rugged and ocean-proof devices. Then they will launch crowdsourcing challenges on Appirio’s Crowdsourcing Platform and use the outputs to develop apps to power the drones and capture and analyze data from their sensors.

Large-scale fishing operations are just one industrial customer use case that Ethan and Sam imagine in the podcast. Thanks to innovative ideas from the challenge, they will spin out further applications for use in subsea oil and gas facility maintenance, discovery, and more.

A tip of the hat is due to a few teams:To the GE Digital team and to GE’s Director, Open Innovation, Dyan Finkhousen, wow. We appreciate your boldness, your willingness to push, and your desire to use open innovation and crowdsourcing in so many inventive ways. And, to the Topcoder community members who registered for and competed in these unique challenges, once again, you’ve blown us all away with your skill, creativity, and hunger to compete!

Be sure to subscribe to the Pivot podcast. It’s inventive, fun, and rooted in the burgeoning technologies that are shaping our futures together.


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